The electric revolution is not just on the horizon, it’s very much in the here and now.
The effects of climate change and our need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels is unquestionable, and governments all around the world are introducing legislation that aims to limit or even completely eradicate the sale of new petrol or diesel cars in the near future.
The growth of the electric motoring is clear for everyone to see but despite this, there remain significant marketing challenges for the industry to overcome. But where can we look for inspiration on how to do this?
The answer is on two wheels and are called e-bikes.
Even in a pre-covid world, electric bicycles were a regular sight on city streets and were surging in popularity. Post-Covid, where commuter patterns and working arrangements may never return to what they were, this could only increase, and fundamentally change our relationship with cars in the process.
In this blog post, we look at the top challenges facing the electric car industry, and what they can learn from the successful marketing of e-bikes.
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What are the top marketing challenges facing Electric Vehicle manufacturers?
There are plenty of challenges that need to be overcome before the mass acceptance and adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) around the world, and some are easier to overcome than others.
- Resistance to change
- Poor track record
- Range anxiety, charging times and infrastructure
- The cost of building and maintaining Electric Cars
- Limited choice
Resistance to change and a poor track record
Every new technology has problems with gaining acceptance in the market and EVs are no different. Not only do they have to overcome an aversion to change from an end-user perspective, but in some instances, especially in the US, they have become emblematic of political and social divides too.
Whether it’s from climate change sceptics, fossil fuel vested interests or those within the motoring industry, the concept of electric motoring is one that’s only recently started to gain anything close to widespread acceptance, and overcome those prejudices.
What’s more, most of the early attempts at electric cars were so awful that many have forever written them off. In 2019, Dyson famously had to scrap it’s electrical car project due to the cars not being commercially viable and in 2013, Fisker Automotive went bankrupt despite producing the Fisker Karma, one of the best luxury hybrid electric vehicles.
There have been many more failures along the way such as the GM EV1, the Toyota RAV-4 EV, and even the old Sinclair C5.
It’s only in the last 10-15 years since battery technology has made them viable choices for the everyday motorist that we are seeing that change.
A lot of people think they will need to make significant changes to their motoring habits if they buy an EV, but in reality, these are quite insignificant. One of the major examples of this is to do with range and charging.
Range anxiety, charging time and charging infrastructure
It’s undeniable that a vast and reliable infrastructure has grown that makes the car second to none when it comes to convenient transport.
Filling your tank with petrol takes 5 minutes and you can drive another several hundred miles. Right now, electric cars simply can’t compete with that.
In the past, shockingly poor charging times and low-capacity batteries made electric cars completely unsuitable for any owner that did anything more than short trips around town.
Even now, unless you’re using a Tesla SuperCharger or similar, EVs can take anywhere between 4-24 hours to fully charge. The thought of running out of charge mid-journey and being stuck somewhere for potentially hours is what’s become known as Range Anxiety.
Modern EVs tend to have a range of between 180 and 350 miles depending on the model but what if you wanted to drive from London to Glasgow, a distance of over 400 miles?
Charging times and having more charging points are clearly two of the biggest challenges that the electric car industry will need to overcome.
Access to high-speed charging on UK motorways is improving, but those within the industry will need to make sure that this continues and that charging points are easily accessible.
Charging times also need to be improved and although this is already underway for some vehicles, the Tesla Supercharger for example takes around 20 minutes to recharge the battery pack to 50%, and roughly 45 minutes to charge to 80%, this needs to be rolled out at a much larger scale.
More and more people are now installing EV chargers in homes, workplaces and business premises, but when it comes to appearances and accepted truths, range anxiety is proving very hard to overcome although the reality is, when it comes to longer journeys, taking a 45-minute break for a coffee and a rest while your car charges is probably not such a bad thing.
A larger issue though, is that for a lot of prospective electric car buyers, they’re seen as a dive into the unknown that simply isn’t worth it yet because…
Electric cars are expensive to buy and maintain, and the choice is limited
The elephant in the room with the current crop of electric vehicles on the market is that they’re still very expensive and there’s no real used EV market to speak of yet.
New technology is always expensive, but until the last 5-10 years or so, the cost of electric cars was so prohibitive that only those who normally bought brand-new BMWs and Mercedes’ could afford it.
Even now, the cheapest electric cars tend to cost between £20,000 and £30,000 and this is a sizable outlay for most people. There’s also an issue that maintenance is often reliant on main dealers.
But none of these problems is insurmountable, and in fact, the electric bike industry faced similar when it first started to bloom…
What are the similarities to e-bikes?
Forbes reports that “E-bikes are predicted to grow from 3.7 million bikes sold in 2019 to 17 million in 2030. The e-bike market in 2020 is already up by 23% year on year, and on the current trajectory, there will be 10 million e-bikes sold per year as early as 2024.”
COVID-19 has undoubtedly played a part in that growth as more and more people look for ways to get outside, exercise, or to avoid commuting via public transport, but the wheels were in motion (not sorry!) well before that.
Halfords note that sales of e-bikes have been increasing for several years, and there now exists a wide range of bikes at various price points to cater for everyone.
However, despite their success, e-bikes didn’t have an easy ride to success and still encounter challenges, many of them similar to those facing the EV industry.
Although opinion of them has certainly changed, they were originally seen as ‘not real bikes’ and perhaps carried an unfair label of being meant for the elderly. They were also seen as complex, heavy and expensive with slow charge times, limited range and costly maintenance.
Many of these things still affect e-bikes to this day… despite costs coming down, prices still tend to start at over £1000, and that’s almost 3x the amount of a semi-decent regular bike. Although sales are clearly booming, many people simply can’t or won’t spend that much on a bike. They’re still much heavier than a normal bike, repairs to the drivetrain are potentially expensive, and charge times and range haven’t significantly improved.
How did e-bikes become so successful?
Being a keen cyclist myself, I think e-bikes were able to overcome their disadvantages by effectively marketing of their benefits.
Now this is nothing new, in fact, it’s what almost every company aims to do, but I think the reason why e-bike industry was so successful is that they got their messaging spot on.
Fundamentally, they were able to promote all the benefits of e-bikes while at the same time showing that they could fit seamlessly into your life.
Owning an e-bike doesn’t necessitate any changes to your lifestyle or the way you use it, but they do open up cycling to whole new group of people who may have been hesitant to traditional bikes.
- Those who are older, or less physically able, and may struggle to pedal a traditional bike
- Those who live in particularly hilly areas
- Those who commute and don’t want to have to shower or take a change of clothes
- Those who are new to it and just want to enjoy leisure cycling
Lance Branquinho from Cycling News hits the nail on the head in his feature about “How the e-bike saved the cycling industry”:
“Perhaps the greatest gift of e-bikes, is the freedom of imagination and richness of experience, that they allow more riders to experience a cycling journey.”
By advertising all the benefits with none of the drawbacks, people have bought in. Literally as well as figuratively, regardless of the price. This latest video from Trek Bikes sums it up perfectly:
What can the electric car industry learn?
We’ve seen that the ebike industry and the electric car industry certainly have some similarities in the challenges they face.
Electric cars are well on their journey to gaining mainstream acceptance and it is absolutely inevitable that eventually, they will be the norm, but what can EV manufacturers do both collectively and individually to create change?
Education, Education, Education
According to Quartz, “More than half (57%) of British people would consider buying an electric car if it was “available at the right price for them,” according to a recent YouGov survey commissioned by insurance company Aviva.
The interest only increases with the younger generation, with 73% of respondents aged 18-24 reporting they would consider an EV.”.
There is clearly an enthusiasm among the public to embrace electric motoring. However, 81% of respondents in the same survey cited battery range and a lack of charging infrastructure as a primary factor in why they wouldn’t choose an electric car.
A survey of 13.9m UK drivers by Kwik Fit had similar findings. 37% of those not considering an electric vehicle for their next car cited a lack of fast charging points in areas where they commonly drive as the reason. 35% cited how far they could travel on a single charge, and 33% cited the increased cost compared to a petrol, diesel or hybrid car.
This is where education comes in, and fundamentally it seems that electric vehicles have an image problem.
We know that over the course of the car’s lifetime, electric vehicles are vastly cheaper to run, easier to insure and don’t rely on a fuel source that will eventually run out. We also know that that in 2019, the average car journey in the UK was 8.4 miles, comfortably within the maximum range of any electric car on sale today.
If you regularly drive across the country then the range argument stacks up, but for most of us, it simply doesn’t.
Anecdotally, when I’ve spoken to electric vehicle owners, they all say that there is little to no change in their motoring habits, but this either isn’t being communicated to potential owners, or isn’t being received.
Put simply, the entire industry needs to do a better job of ensuring their marketing and messaging cuts through.
When we looked at e-bikes we saw marketing that normalised e-bikes and showed them as every bit as good as a traditional bike, without the perceived drawbacks, and sales soared.
Clearly, a car is much more considered purchase, but for me, when we see marketing for electric cars, it all seems a bit stuffy and dull and there’s a real chance to change that.
Innovative marketing tactics for innovative tech
In order for their message to get through, EV manufacturers need to get creative. The current generation of young car buyers, and certainly those coming up behind them, consume media completely differently.
Motoring advertising in general is very old-fashioned and traditional, but embracing new tactics could engage and convince the customers they need.
Whether it’s in the motoring industry, fashion industry, tech, or frankly anything else, highlighting the benefits and convenience of electric vehicles in a genuine and honest way will help lead to normalisation of electric motoring.
Content Marketing, PR and influencer campaigns working with family bloggers and influencers, that are backed up with more traditional advertising techniques, will help to attract the current generation of new car buyers, and nurture those of the future.
For example, could a manufacturer send a family on a camping road trip in Scotland to demonstrate how when it comes to using it, their EV is just like a normal family car and that it can cope with long trips, lots of luggage and a bit of rough and tumble?
Likewise, could a manufacturer work with business influencers to demonstrate that there’s no reason an EV can’t be used as a fleet car? In the process, highlighting why range anxiety is not always justified. Or, a manufacturer could highlight the amount of time people spend at petrol pumps over the course of a car’s lifetime, and juxtapose that with the amount of time saved to do other things by charging your car at home.
Seizing on changing habits
Many people have tried to predict what a post-covid world will look like and most of us don’t have a clue, so I’m not going to. But… I do think it’s likely that the rise of remote working, virtual meetings and changing attitudes to flexible working, there may be a change in the way we use our cars.
If we’re just doing the school run, heading to the shops and using it for leisure time, an electric vehicle suddenly makes a lot more sense financially and some of the main perceived drawbacks have gone.
Any electric car manufacturer who is able to effectively communicate this and position themselves as a vehicle that makes sense in a modern context may be the one who can capitalise on the inevitable change in public opinion.
Changing public opinion is also down to the manufacturers themselves. If they know that people are hesitant about the charging network, then they should explore ways to allay peoples fears. This could be through highlighting their investment in their own network, a tactic that has worked very well for Tesla in the the USA, or by working with various public or private charging networks to guarantee access to their cars.
Going a step further, Ford has partnered with Centrica in the UK to offer a dedicated home charger installation service with their cars, and British Gas customers get preferential rates on their home charging. Expanding this by offering the buyer access to a national network of chargers as well allows the manufacturer to offer a completely seamless experience to the customers, meaning they’ll never be far from a charger, and never have to worry about range anxiety again.
There are some things that no amount of good marketing can change and it’s evidently clear that EV manufacturers are in a catch-22 situation. Currently, they’re too expensive and the charging network doesn’t exist to convert enough people into buying them, but prices won’t come down and the investment in the network won’t improve until there is mass market appeal.
This mass market appeal has to be created and driven by the manufacturers. The simple fact is that they have to do a better job of highlighting the benefits of EV motoring, addressing people’s concerns, and offering practical and tangible solutions. The switch to electric motoring is inevitable for all of us, and although there are still questions around the environmental impact of manufacturing batteries, for the sake of the planet, the sooner we all switch, the better.
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